For much of the 1980s and early 1990s, Iran remained a country more or less isolated from the rest of the world, with an economy in shambles, a history trying to rewrite itself, and a culture trying to redefine itself; it was difficult to buy bananas, let alone art. For years, those artists who chose not to leave the country found themselves either subdued or silenced, and the contemporary art scene accordingly all but withered away. Withered is perhaps the key word, here, though; for, just as the Persian language was revived, and Iranian art and culture at times lay dormant only to rise and flourish against the odds, the seeds planted by the pioneers of the country’s contemporary art scene once again bore fruit. During the President Mohammed Khatami era (1997–2005), social and cultural reforms were implemented, much to the benefit of artists as well as the country’s sizeable youth population, the offspring of war and revolution. Greater freedoms were granted to the press, restrictions were eased with respect to licenses for musical and cultural output, and increased social liberties were afforded to Iranian youth. During this period, still regarded as one of brief respite, the grounds were made fertile for a new generation of artists and intellectuals to—against tired narratives of sacrifice, outside aggression, and the “enemy”—find hope, and make their voices heard.
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